ralph bakshi

Wizards (1977)

Ah Bakshi, the man they couldn’t tame.

I’ve reviewed two of Ralph Bakshi’s movies now, and even though my feelings on them were, oh let’s just go with “mixed” I have to say I have been looking forward to this one quite a bit. Why? Well, partially it’s because the animation reviews tend to be more fun to write, and also because, even if I don’t think they’re necessarily good films, they’re always a hell of a trip and fascinating to watch and talk about. Look, the guy walked into mainstream animation and just started throwing petrol bombs and I’ve always said I’ll take fascinatingly bad over dully competent any day.

And yet, the more I read up on Wizards (Papa Bear Bakshi’s third feature) the more anxious I got. Wizards is Ralph Bakshi’s most popular movie, and the one that, by Bakshi’s own admission, no one gave him shit over and genuinely seemed to like. This is the movie that even the squares seem to dig.

“You sold out, man.”

“Fuck you, man.”

Could that work? Could Ralph Bakshi actually make a standard, mainstream animated film? Or would his movie lose that inherent grungy Bak-shit insane quality that’s really the only thing that makes his output interesting? What happens when Ralph Bakshi shaves and puts on some damn pants? Let’s take a look.


Deathmatch 2017: This aggression will not stand, man.

During the 2016 election there was considerable debate as to whether Donald Trump was simply a con man using nativist rhetoric to win the nomination and who would then swiftly abandon populism and ram through a hard-right platform designed to enrich the one percent, or whether he was actually the racist authoritarian that he played on TV. The answer turned out to be: “Yes.”

Things have gotten real bad, real fast and I think it’s clear that we are living in times that will have large, detailed chapters in future history books. I awoke this morning to learn that a close friend of mine is now banned from entering the United States purely because of her place of birth. The wall is being built. A white nationalist is now sitting on the National Security Council. The nation built by the poor, the tired and the huddled masses is refusing to admit refugees. The most powerful office in the world is less trusted and respected after eight days of Trump than after eight years of George W. Bush. I confess that I am deeply afraid.

As well as being afraid, I am angry, frustrated, appalled and sickened. But one thing I am not is despondent. I am not pessimistic. I am not disheartened.


Because the last week has reaffirmed what I already knew. The American people did not elect Trump. Trump was elected by a combination of fluke, a rotting and archaic electoral system, voter suppression and intervention by a hostile foreign power. The American people are the ones who voted for Hillary Clinton by a massive margin, who staged the largest demonstration in the nation’s history against Trump’s nascent kakistocracy and who are now fighting against the illegal detention of refugees at American airports.

The good outnumber the wicked and they always will.

This is a time when all people of good will must put whatever skills they have towards resisting Trump. For me, that means writing snarky reviews of movies which I will be the first to admit is not the most obviously useful skill in an anti-fascist resistance movement.

But that is why this year’s Unshaved Mouse Charity Movie Deathmatch is in aid of the American Civil Liberties Union.

So, how does the Deathmatch work?

  1. Make a donation of $5 or $10 to the ACLU.
  2. Email your receipt to unshavedmouse@gmail.com letting me know which movie or series gets your vote (a 5 dollar donation counts as one vote, 10 counts for two)
  3. Deathmatch runs all through February. Every two weeks, the lowest scoring three movies/series will be eliminated in ways not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
  4. Highest scoring three movies/series at the end of the month get reviewed and get to go home to their loved ones.

Mouse, I’m wealthy, I’m charitable and I want you to review something NOW.

A $35 dollar donation gets you any movie or episode of a TV show reviewed that you like. $60 gets you two. $100 gets you four and quite possibly a statue somewhere when this all blows over.

What if I buy a review for a movie or series that’s competing in the death match?

In the case of movies, if you give a $35 donation and request a movie that loses the deathmatch, you get the review anyway. If your movie wins the deathmatch then I will contact you and ask you for your second choice and you get two movies that you wanted reviewed instead of one. Fair enough?

In the case of a TV series  that wins the deathmatch, I’ll review an extra episode for every person that gave a $35 donation for that series.

Boring stuff done, so let’s MEET OUR FIGHTERS!


Fritz the Cat (1972)

“Heeey everyone.”

“Heeey everyone.”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”

“Oh look guys, it’s Spouse of Mouse!”


“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“Heeey everyone. I was just hoping we could have a little chat before Mouse starts the review. Just us.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“I know you all think it’s really funny that you got Mouse to review Fritz the Cat. I’m sure you’re all having a big laugh. “Ha” you might say, and also “Ha.”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule. You hurt the ones I love?”

“But here’s the thing. This movie messed him up so badly that I don’t know if he’ll ever recover. And I’m a simple mouse who lives by a simple rule: You hurt the ones I love?”



“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”

“’Kay? Enjoy the review.”


 Do you know what it’s like to review Fritz the Cat? To sit in the dark watching that cat fuck everything that moves, to feel your brain slowly coming apart from the constant assault of surreal, messed up, toked out, crazy shit? No. You don’t. Because you’ve never been out there, man. Out in the real deep shit. This movie man. You don’t know, man. It’s like, you think you have a handle on things, man, like life and art and truth and beauty man like they’re all just packaged and sold in these neat little Styrofoam boxes, man, and then this movie comes along and it’s like, you know man? Like, what does it all mean, man? I…I…I shouldn’t be doing this man, I should be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas, man…
“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”

“Mouse, relax. You’re going crazy over there, man.”



 Sorry. Sorry. I’m alright. Okay. Let’s do this.
For as long as there have been comics there have been “underground” comics, the kind of comics that aren’t read in a newspaper at the breakfast table on a lazy Sunday morning but are more usually read at night. Under the covers. With a flashlight.
Jerkin’ it.
Pornographic comic books or “Tijuana Bibles” were especially popular in the Great Depression and usually featured well known comic book characters or public figures engaging in what scripture calls “the hard fuckin’”. No one was safe. Popeye, Betty Boop, Superman you name it, someone drew them doin’ it.
Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

Trust me, just be glad it’s Minnie and not Pluto.

By the 1960s the underground comics (or “comix”) scene had merged with the broader counter culture movement. In contrast to mainstream comics which had to abide by the Comics Code Authority, comix were uncensored and didn’t abide by jack shit. These books were absolutely steeped in sixties drug and music culture, often politically radical and transgressive and extreme in their depictions of sex and violence. They also, it must be said, frequently had a streak of misogyny a mile wide. But at its best, the comix scene produced some of the finest American sequential art of the twentieth century (Art Spiegelman, for example, honed his craft in indie magazines in the seventies).
The one creator who is probably more associated with the comix scene than any other is Robert Crumb and his most famous creation is almost certainly Fritz the Cat, an anthropomorphised cat who’s kinda like Felix crossed with Roosh V. The Fritz strips first appeared in the magazine Help! where the editors famously responded to his submission with a letter saying; “Dear R. Crumb, we think the little pussycat drawings you sent us were just great. Question is, how do we print them without going to jail?” The comic became a genuine breakout hit and was read by many a long-haired hippie degenerate, one of whom was our old friend Ralph Bakshi.
Bakshi had set up his own animation studio and was looking to create animation for adults. He came across one of Crumb’s books and bought the rights to the strip. Warner Bros originally were going to fund it but then they saw Bakshi’s early shoots.
Instead, the movie ended up being funded by Cinemation Industries, purveyor of such highbrow classics as The Black Godfather, Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song and The Eighteen Year Old Cheerleaders.
It’s important to remember that there was a weird period from the late sixties to around the mid-eighties where porn was pretty much mainstream, and you could just go to the cinema and watch a big budget porno made and financed by a large studio as opposed to some dude with a camera and a couch. Fritz the Cat is very much a part of that. It’s not solely a porno but it’s got relatives who are pornos if you catch me. So before we get into this review please take note that this is a movie with sex and nudity, pretty grotesque ethnic caricatures, frequent homophobic and racial slurs and some generally fucked up shit.
What I’m trying to say is…
“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”

“This review ain’t NSFW for nothin’ baby.”


The Lord of the Rings (1978)

(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material. New to the blog? Start at the start with Snow White.)

My father was the one who introduced me to JRR Tolkien, giving me a dog-eared, well-thumbed chunk called The Lord of the Rings one summer when we were on holiday (I was maybe…eight, I guess? Pre-transformation anyway). I remember there was this weird picture on the cover of the Black Riders that looked sort of animated but also sort of not and I asked my father what it was from.
“That’s from the movie.” He said.
“There’s a movie?”
“Oh yeah. You have to see it.”
“Is it any good?”
“No. No, it’s awful.”
This was really the problem you had if you were a fantasy fan any time before the turn of the millennium:
We had no good movies.
Our brothers and sisters in the science fiction fandom had it pretty bad too of course, the vast majority of their movies were cheap schlock but at least they could point to a few straight up classics that even the hoity-toity critics had to admit were the real deal; Alien, 2001, Bladerunner.
Fantasy fans though? What did we have?
Truly, our cup ranneth over.

Truly, our cup ranneth over.

So if you were a fantasy fan in the seventies, eighties or nineties and you heard there was a Lord of the Rings movie, you had to see it even if it was terrible. Because it’s not exactly like you had a whole lot of options. The Lord of the Rings, the undisputed big swingin’ dick of the high fantasy genre, used to spend most of its time on lists of “unfilmable” books and with good reason. I can think of two periods in Hollywood history where a faithful film adaptation might have been possible. The first would be in the late fifties, when studios were creating gargantuan epics like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments. The second would be now, the current era of movie history which (not coincidentally) was largely kick-started by Peter Jackson’s own Lord of the Rings trilogy. The current movie scene owes almost as much to The Lord of the Rings as the fantasy genre does. Planned trilogies, huge runtimes, massive battle scenes, copious amounts of CGI…so much of how movies are made, look and sound in the modern era can be laid at the feet of Peter Jackson (though we won’t hold that against him).
On the flipside, if I had to choose the worst possible time to try and make a Lord of the Rings movie (aside from, I dunno, the silent era) it would be the nineteen seventies. The seventies is often lauded as the greatest movie decade and it’s won that reputation for a slew of grungy, lo-fi, morally ambiguous classics. It was that kind of era (contrast that to 2001 when Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring came out when everything seemed a good deal more black and white). So you have a decade where no one is really spending big money on movies anymore, epics are largely a thing of the past and the cultural zeitgeist is really not grokking a simple morality tale of noble heroes trying to defeat an evil lord of darkness who lives in a black spiky castle. Who (Who, I ask you?) would be a mad enough bastard to try and make a Lord of the Rings movie in the nineteen seventies?

When not animating, he keeps his drawing arm strong by wrasslin’ grizzlies.

Ralph Bakshi is one of the most famous (or at least notorious) American animators out there. Having made his bones in the Terrytoons studio (Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse and the like) he went on to create the animated adaptation of R. Crumb’s comic strip Fritz the Cat.
Oh sure. I'll review it. If you can tell me what I say to my wife when she walks in on me watching the scene where all the animals have a bathtub orgy.

Oh sure. I’ll review it. If you can tell me what I say to my wife when she walks in on me watching the scene where all the animals have a bathtub orgy.

By 1969 the movie rights to The Lord of the Rings had found their way to United Artist’s, where Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman both had a crack at adapting it, with Boorman turning in a 700 page script that no one at the studio could even understand. Bakshi, who’d been obsessed with the idea of doing an animated version of the story since the fifties begged UA for the chance to direct. Impressed by Bakshi’s passion, UA junked Boorman’s script and told Ralph to go do his own version.
Bakshi was a true Tolkien die-hard and, in stark contrast to Boorman who had altered characters and plot points willy-nilly, wanted to do a movie version of the book that was as faithful as possible. Bakshi firmly believed that Tolkien was a genius who could do no wrong.
My rebuttal.

My rebuttal.

I can respect fidelity to the source material (and if anyone ever decides to do a movie of The Hangman’s Daughter I’ll probably start respecting it a whole lot more) but ultimately I think this was the movie’s undoing. Being faithful to the text is all well and good if you have hundreds of millions of dollars and a New Zealand but if you’re trying to do the story in two moderately budgeted animated features (as was the plan) then you really need to start looking at the story with a gaze of grim determination and a pair of scissors clenched in one hand. Bakshi tried to fit as much of the book as possible into the movie and we’ll see further on the problems that this caused.
Bakshi made the decision to use rotoscoping, a technique he’d first used in his earlier animated feature Wizards as a way of saving money. Rotoscoping is about as old as animation itself and basically involves drawing and painting over live action footage to create an animated effect. This has the upside of giving you more realistic movement and it tends to be cheaper and less labor intensive than traditional cel animation. Despite this, rotoscoping has traditionally been used more as a tool than a style. There’s plenty of instances of rotoscoping in animated movies (Cruella De Ville’s Car, Edgar’s motorbike in The Aristocats, The Giant Mouse of Minsk in An American Tail) but it’s rare for it to be used for extended sequences and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings represents probably the most extensive use of the technique in a feature film until Richard Linklater’s Waking Life in 2001 (and that was digital, rather than hand-drawn rotoscoping). Why is that? Well, part of the appeal of animation is that animated characters don’t move like real people and can be stretched or distorted or flattened however the animator pleases. Another reason (and a big part of why all the examples I listed above are inanimate objects or vehicles) is that living characters that are rotoscoped tend to have their home address in the Uncanny Valley. No one had ever tried to make a movie that was almost entirely rotoscoped.
So. Untested animation techniques. Impossible to adapt source material. Certainty of death. Small chance of success.
"What are we waiting for?"

“What are we waiting for?”